The earliest Christian community expected Jesus’ imminent return. But when he didn’t come and the years grew into decades, the community redefined their understanding of the "coming of the Son of Man" and adopted a stance of patient expectation. The conclusion of our Gospel passage today sums up this communal vision as it has been lived throughout the ages: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” But the Gospel understanding of the phrase "the coming of the Son of Man" was a bit different.
In the 21st century we do not look for his “coming” with the same intense expectation of the first Christians. In Jesus' view, the Kingdom is always near, always present and ready to break through the barriers of every day life. We are immersed in the essence of God where we allow him to take hold of us, impel us, embrace us, challenge us. And if we pay attention and are "vigilant," we will be able to find evidence of His all-encompassing Love in the simple, ordinary and sometimes tragic events that go to make up our daily lives.
We believe Jesus’ coming is always happening in many unexpected ways. Christ is constantly and unexpectedly breaking into our lives to forgive our past, grace and challenge our present and keep our hope alive for the future. Christ always is. And yet he comes afresh to renew his promise that no matter how dark the present is, darkness and death will be overcome by his light. Therefore, he tells us, stay awake and be prepared for his coming. Actually, it's more like "be on the lookout" rather than "be prepared." Isaiah said this same thing is a more beautiful way to another people suffering their own darkness and despair, "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
Advent is a time of expectation, a time of preparation, a time of urgency. And we enter this seaseon with vivid, violent reminders of the evils caused in our society by selfishness, ruthless ambition, twisted hatred and the craze for power at every level. This ugly drama is played out all over our world: in our homes and families, in the business community, in our politics, in the mistrust and irreconcilable differences among world powers and even in the lack of trust in church leadership.
But Scripture reminds us that Advent is also a time of living in the present. We must not allow ourselves to slip into the routine of ordinary life and to miss the opportunities that life presents to us. Advent is a time for us to recall lost opportunities and of determining to take steps to miss fewer opportunities in the days ahead. It's a time for us to pay attention, to be watchful, to be on the lookout. We need to prepare ourselves to live effectively and lovingly with life's tensions, and to be aware not only of our own needs but also the needs of others.
This past year has indeed been far from peaceful. But, especially as this year comes to a close, we reaffirm our belief in all that Jesus has already accomplished in us, and we see in that a promise, a reason to hope for so much more. We long for a deepening of our own faith and love, for the power to overcome evil in ourselves and in our world, for the healing of hatred and the banishment of terrorism and war. And we seek the fulfillment of peace and justice.
The coming of the Son of Man is not an improbable, imagined event that exists only in the future. Our Christian life is based on the assurance that our God has, in fact, already come among us in our own flesh. He continues to love us beyond death. He has overcome sin and evil, and has seeded us with the hope of Eternal Life. We use these advent days to stir up this hope in a fearful world, to cultivate that seed of hope to full bloom. And for us that does not mean waiting in fear and dread for doomsday.
So what do we need to do in order to be prepared for Christ’s coming? Our future hope calls for action now - in the present. Scripture reminds us, “Wake up! Don’t let the time drift by.” Are there specific changes we need to make now in our lives? What patterns and ways have been shown to be disruptive, wasteful, and distractions for an Advent people looking for Christ in their daily lives? Jesus calls us to constant vigilance as he says, “Therefore, stay awake!” So, let us make our preparation for Christ’s coming very specific by searching for him each day, because he is already present to us.
The resurrection stories show that Christ is alive and walks among us, often in unrecognizable ways. The Advent and Christmas stories show us that he is born into our lives every day.